Reborn Mitch heads for FL

BY PJ HELLER | MARATHON, Fla. | November 4, 1998


MARATHON, Fla. (Nov. 4, 1998) - Residents in the Florida Keys, still

cleaning up from the pounding inflicted by Hurricane Georges, braced today

for Tropical Storm Mitch which reformed after devastating Central America.

The National Weather Service issued a tropical storm warning for the

Keys and a marine warning from Pigeon Key to Key West. The Keys, along with

central and southern Florida, were also under the threat of tornadoes.

Storm warnings were also posted for western Cuba, the northwest Bahamas

and the Florida Peninsula from Tarpon Springs on the west coast to New

Smyrna Beach on the east.

According to the National Weather Service in Miami a tornado was

reported Tuesday evening in the mid-Florida Keys and power was reported to

be knocked out over portions of the Keys.

At 7 p.m. EST, the storm was about 270 miles southwest of Florida and

was moving to the northeast at 20 mph. Outer bands from the storm were

already dousing much of the Keys, with 4 to 8 inches or more expected.

Winds were near 45 mph with gusts to 60 mph.

Tides were expected to be 3 to 5 feet above normal when the center of

the storm makes landfall over the Florida Peninsula.

Fearing the effects of another storm on an area still trying to dig out

from Hurricane Georges, the Monroe County Emergency Management Office

announced that at it was opening three shelters at 5 p.m. today in the Keys

- at Marathon, Big Pine Key and Key West.

"There are structures right now that aren't terribly safe to be in under

normal conditions much less tropical storm conditions," noted Jessica

Smith, administrator with the Paradise Interfaith Network.

Irene Toner, operations manager for the Emergency Management Office,

said the shelters would remain open "as long as necessary."

The agency also announced that all county schools closed at 1 p.m. and

would remain closed through Thursday. Hospitals were placed on standby.

The storm comes as residents, especially in Big Pine Key and Cudjoe Key,

continued to repair their homes and mobile homes that were damaged when

Georges slammed into the area Sept. 25. More than 1,500 mobile homes were

damaged or destroyed in the storm.

Toner said it was too early to tell what effect the latest storm might

have on property in the Keys.

"What it's going to do structurally, I would hate to speculate on that,"

she said.

Debris, ranging from palm fronds to mattresses and refrigerators, still

littered roadsides, waiting to be removed.

"There not much we can do about it right now because this thing (Mitch)

hit so fast," Toner said.

"We're just going with it," she said. "Actually we never quite recovered

from Hurricane Georges, so this is just a continuation."

Ironically, county officials and other relief workers were scheduled to

meet Saturday in Key West to discuss their disaster recovery procedures

used during Georges. A debriefing was also scheduled for Dec. 2 for

operations center personnel aimed at improving future disaster recovery

operations.

Mitch, a killer storm that left at least 9,000 people dead in Central

America, regenerated Tuesday as a tropical storm and began moving across

the Yucatan Peninsula. It weakened to a tropical depression, but then

regained strength as it spun out over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Forecasters said conditions were right for Mitch to become an

"extratropical" storm. Its path would then take it along the southeast

coast of the U.S. on Thursday, bringing heavy rain, strong winds and tidal

flooding to the coasts of the Carolinas, Georgia and northeast Florida,

forecasters said.

Posted 7 p.m. - Nov. 4, 1998


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